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Remembering Neil Fry

In 1965, Fry managed ACU's cafeteria
In 1965, Fry managed ACU's cafeteria
By now, we hope you’ve received ACU Today’s Fall 2009 issue in the mail. You may have noticed news about the death of 81-year-old Edward Neil Fry (’50) on page 46 of EXperiences. It always pains me to see the fascinating lives of people summarized in a few lines of an obituary, even more so for people I knew well and admired. Neil was one.
He worked at ACU for 31 years, serving as owner of the ACC Cafe (1952-55); manager of the cafeteria (1955-68); director of the McGlothlin Campus Center (1968-69), auxiliary enterprises and physical facilities (1969-75) and planning (1975-81); and assistant to the vice president of finance (1981-84) before returning to director of auxiliary enterprises in 1984.
A former city councilman who also held multiple major civic leadership roles, he concentrated the later years of his working life as Taylor County commissioner, first winning election in 1986 for a seat held the previous 36 years by J.T. “Jake” McMillon. Before the vote, the Abilene Reporter-News said “Fry was a member of the GOP community before it became fashionable, or safe, to be called a Republican in Taylor County.”
His love for the restaurant business inspired him to build the Towne Crier Restaurant on East Highway 80, for years the king of the ACU Hill’s food establishments. It’s taken a bit of a backseat to other eateries as business in northeast Abilene has mushroomed, but still has a fiercely loyal clientele, a bustling lunch crowd and memorable chicken-fried steak dinners.
Fry was a multiple winner of Abilene Restauranteur of the Year titles, a serious but speedy golfer at Shady Oaks in Clyde, and a savvy, strong-minded businessman who seldom met a stranger around the Key City.
One story sums up Neil for me.
Seems there was a young couple at the congregation where he served as an elder (South 11th and Willis Church of Christ), whose first child was born late at night during an early March snowstorm in 1989. The father-to-be was barely able to see to drive his small car in the blowing snow from their country house outside of town to Abilene Regional Medical Center (previously Humana Hospital) hoping the expectant mother’s child didn’t enter the world in the back seat of a Honda Civic on F.M. 707.
Their son was born safely a few hours later, but the new dad had to spend two nights on a recliner in the hospital room with his wife because the country roads to the family’s house were coated in ice and snow and much of the long gravel driveway leading to their modest red brick house was blocked by knee-deep snowdrifts. Without a snow shovel (where in Abilene would you buy one in March?), the young family’s ability to park within shouting distance of their front door was going to be a big problem.
Neil heard of their plight, and without fanfare, used his county commissioner’s influence to have a road grader stray from clearing far more important streets in the city to make a run 11 miles from town and instead, up the family’s snow-choked driveway. The massive blade couldn’t help but scrape away some of the gravel as well, but soon, the heavy white stuff was a goner and the new youngster had a clean path to his first night in a room decorated with light blue teddy bears and fresh paint.
Neil never claimed to be responsible, and probably could have found himself in some hot water over it, but the family had a hunch as to what happened. Besides, they had no other friends with big yellow road graders. The mischievous twinkle in Neil’s eye and a silent slap on the father’s shoulder at church the next Sunday gave away the secret.
The Hadfields didn’t plan for such eventful spring weather when they moved to Texas in 1983, but were blessed to have friends such as Neil who knew when to lend a helping, hulking piece of machinery that winter-like week in 1989. I will always be grateful to him for his thoughtful gesture of love for my wife and son, and this left-his-snow-shovel-in-Michigan dad.